Journeying through photography

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What a waste

I’ve been thinking about the amount of technology that is inside our cameras these days and how magazines and web sites encourage us to buy the latest cameras for a particular super wizz bang feature. Then on the next page they will be telling us to shoot raw because it provides the best quality from the camera.

So what about that image processing engine that the camera manufacturer spent probably millions developing? By shooting raw aren’t we bypassing most of the functionality of the camera? Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t shoot raw, after all I do myself, but I have taken to shooting JPEG+RAW and using the raw file as more of a fallback when exposure wasn’t quite as I needed. Basically by pushing us to shoot raw, we are boiling our cameras down to the three settings (aperture, shutter speed and iso) and the quality of the sensor while ignoring the majority of the image processing.

Now obviously the quality of the sensor does vary, and the iso and shutter ranges do vary, but do we really need the all singing high end camera model, or should we be more careful and choose based on those four fundamental aspects we all ways use. Certainly going forward I’m going to be putting a lot more thought in to how high up the camera range I need to go in order to get what I really need.

Excuse me sir, you can’t take pictures here

If you’ve read any of the other posts on the blog you will know I’ve a growing like for the smaller mirror less cameras which really do pack good quality images without the need to have a large body and correspondingly large lens. While in London with the Secret Photography Group  I took my D7000 as well as my Olympus EP1, and Olympus EPM1, but spent the whole day using the EPM1 primarily with EP1 as a second body. The D7000 never came out of my bag.

537378_10151335744366791_572359816_nYeah, I was a bit nervous that the resulting images wouldn’t hold up to my companions, but to be honest I shouldn’t have worried. They look just as dandy. What did amuse me though was when one my fellow photographers got accosted by some security guards around Canary Wharf asking them if the were doing any professional work, while I sailed by.

The biggest drawback with the current crop of smaller bodies is the lack of a view finder, which having used DSLRs for the last 6 years or so is the only thing I’m missing. I especially missed it at the weekend with the bright sunshine, but that can  be solved by using the VF-1. The VF-1 works well with the 20mm and 14mm Panasonic lenses I have, but because it is optical, it provides no additional information from the camera. This means you have to rely on the annoying focus beep , that I normally turn off, in order to know when to take the shot. The real problem comes with the Olympus 45mm (which is just great by the way) because you just can’t reliably frame the shot on the VF-1. I’m going to have to investigate one of three options, the VF-2, VF-3 or EM-5.

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All you can eat with Micro Four Thirds? With the right combination of kit you certainly can with no serious compromises.

Doing the street

This weekend just gone I spent a pleasant day in the company of a few members of the Secret Photography Group (shh it’s a secret) trying some street photography in London. It was an opportunity to try the Olympus 45mm on the E-PM1 body, which turned out to be a great pairing. The 45mm is really very good wide open, although a  lot of the shots were taken with it stopped down to f4 because of the surprising amount of sun that day. If you know the weather lately in the UK you will be aware we have been experiencing quite a bit of snow and rain, more so than we have in recent years at this time of year.

546135_10151335744561791_1641319650_nStreet photography is an interesting branch of photography requiring the photographer to put themselves in uncomfortable situations, but the rewards do out way the fear. I’ve only done a bit in the past, and I’d forgotten how much fun it is when you get into the zone. It can be quite un-nerving approaching strangers and just snapping away at them, but generally you will find that most people will do one of a number of things, smile or frown at the weird person taking their picture.

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For me, the more interesting people are the people that either react in a way where they don’t want their picture taken, like the guy above, or just continue on oblivious to what has happened.

All towns seem to have their collection of characters that are worth capturing, but London being so large has a generally much more diverse collection of these characters. I’m sure there must be a character per square foot figure for every place on earth, and London must be right up there with the best of them.

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There is something about street that lends itself to B&W images. They just seem to evoke a feeling which is diluted by colour. I think this tends to come from the surroundings being full of advertising rather than other subjects which normally have a much more diluted range of colours, not to say that the colours in other settings aren’t as bright, but they number of colours do tend to be more constrained.

383039_10151335744336791_1718576058_nSomething else that struck me with the images having spent some time reading about artistic techniques is the rhythm in tones in the images that work, but more on that another time.

Life and Death – The Rise and Fall of the Social Club

Camera clubs… It’s something I’ve been thinking about very recently. Most of you will look on camera clubs as “full of old men sporting beards and reminiscing over the death of film”, well you are probably right. In my experience of hunting out a camera club that I would want to spend some time at, that tended to be the case, but in the end I settled on the local one which isn’t full of old men sporting beards, but instead has a fairly even split of men/woman and ages, with a variety of experience levels as well. But in my search it would appear that I missed keeping an eye out for another aspect of a long running club, the “social” club gang.

For some strange reason I ended up running the web site for the club I joined, which is ok, after all it dovetails with the 9-5 skill set. This in turn has meant that I became a committee member which has proved to be an aspect that I hadn’t bargained on. By being a committee member, other normal members come to you with suggestions and requests that they would like to see the club implement or adopt. The other thing they do is moan, but more about that later. Taking ideas to the committee isn’t as straight forward as you might expect because the committee is generally manned by members who have been with the club for a long time and can appear set in their ways or dismissive of ideas because something similar has been tried at some point before and wasn’t deemed an amazing success. I think because of this a club becomes formulaic in it’s approach and dangerously takes a step towards death. Did I mention the members moan about the club?

So what is the life of the club? Well it tends to fit around 3 main areas: competitions, lectures and to a lesser extent practical sessions. Over time the practical sessions have been converted into a mixture of table top photography, studio and special interest groups (SIGs). The SIGs are held on a Sunday morning and aren’t very well attended because it seems that most people have a life at the weekend – including myself.

Competitions provide an opportunity to have your work “judged” by a judge with a tiny amount of critic given. Some members of the club think that this is enough to help everyone improve, but it basically boils down to a few seconds per picture for a total of 12 pictures over the year. Hardly what you would call providing feedback.

Lectures have been a mix of solid photographic information and travelogues. You might think that this would be good, apart from they tend to be in a 20/80 split with 80% being travelogues. I feel sorry for the lecturers that turn round at the mid point and see that half of the audience have got up and gone. The other problem with our lecturers is that the majority of them show pictures which are dwarfed in quality by online communities such as 500px or 1x.com In fact I wonder sometimes if they know that these resources exist.

Studio sessions have tended to be unguided with no help in setting lights or directing models, but this is gradually changing with the more knowledgable portrait photographers stepping up.

Oh by the way the members moan. One of the things they moan about is the travelogues and the lack of practical sessions or talks where they can learn something. There is a want within the club to help the members become better photographers, produce more striking images and do better in competitions – the idea being that this will help promote the club as a place of excellence, skill and vision. But the members moan that they don’t get the help to do this. The committee moan that the members aren’t good enough. Something is wrong somewhere and I think I know where the blame lies.

At the end of last year the programme secretary stepped down and a new one was appointed with a vision of changing the programme. As it stands the programme secretary produces the programme for the following year, but this means another year of potentially poor lectures and lack of growth in the members, so a radical idea occurred that the programme could be overhauled and the more obvious travelogue lectures dropped in favour of more practical sessions on camera and image processing as well as lecturers outside of the normal circuit – local inspiring photographers as well as potentially more high profile ones that some of us have access to (including a famous Sun photographer…). So did it work out? nope. The group that formulated the plan failed to get the buy in of the committee as a whole because they were running out of time as the season start approached and a number of strong voices on the committee balked at the idea. The timing was wrong both in the point in the season to attempt it and also the amount of time to set it in motion.

At this point your probably thinking the blame should lie with the programme secretary. Actually I don’t think that is true, the blame lies with the committee and the members. The committee is failing the members, and the members aren’t holding the committee to account.

Back in June a fellow club member sent a link to an article on the Independent website “The Rise and Fall of the Camera Club” and after the past week I’ve re-read the article and it’s resonance has been stronger than ever. I see the club I’m a member of in the article, but it also eludes to a new type of club which for me looks to be more enticing.

So after two years what have I learned? Nothing photographically, only that the camera club I joined is a social club and I’m not sure I want to be in a social club.

Olympus EP-1 as a Black & white Camera

I promised last time to talk about how I shoot with the Olympus EP-1. I bought the EP-1 at the beginning of last year as stocks of it in the UK where being sold off.

The drive for a smaller camera came about from not wanting to carry my DSLR when going out, but still wanting a good quality camera. I looked into compacts, but couldn’t get away from the poor quality of the images in varying light and started to sway towards the Canon G12. The G12 wasn’t a bad camera, but it just felt like a brick in my hands. It was at this point that I started to look at the micro four thirds cameras and the Samsung NX100. The NX100 although a nice camera was easy to dismiss purely on the availability of lenses (or lack of), which left the micro four third cameras.

It was a hard decision as to which micro four thirds camera to buy and I was torn between the Panasonic GF2 and the EP-1. In the end it came down to the kits available at the time, either the 14-42 with the Panasonic or the 17mm pancake lens with the Olympus. The pancake lens and the EP-1 dual dials swung it for me. The dual dials on the EP-1, allows me to have aperture controlled on one dial and the shutter speed on the other. This sits well because I’ve become used to dual dials on my DSLRs.

So EP-1 in hand, what next? Well a Panasonic 20mm f1.7 of course, because although the 17mm is quite fast at f2.8, it wasn’t quite fast enough. No points to the person that suggests I should have bought the 20mm with the GF2, because I’d have only had one dial still 🙂

Anyway, my first opportunity to shoot with the EP-1 was on holiday, and I soon developed a penchant for shooting it in black and white. There is just something really nice about the EP-1 and black and white that I can’t just put my finger on. Trouble is every now and then I want a shot in colour, but it’s a real pain to have to consider that when you’re shooting away, so I now always shoot in RAW+JPEG. The JPEG is always black and white, but if I want to get a colour copy I can always go back to the RAW file and use that. It does slow the writing to card down a little bit (but not that much) but I plan to eleviate that by getting some class 10 SD cards.

So would I recommend this set-up? hell yeah, although not to Mr Blurry, but he doesn’t know what he is missing yet. The 20mm is a cracking lens coupled with the EP-1. If you want a cheap set-up, you should have a look at it or maybe one of the GF3+14mm kits floating around in the UK at the moment for £200.

Bottom line – small cameras & large sensor rock. Maybe next time we’ll talk about cheap £20 CCTV lenses on micro four thirds.

They call him Mr Blurry

Last year, I bought an Olympus EP-1 in an attempt to have a camera that was more portable than one of my Nikon DSLRs. The goal was to have a camera that I wouldn’t balk at carrying because of it’s size. The EP-1 came in a kit with the 17mm f2.8 Olympus pancake lens, which is both light and equates to a reasonable 35mm.

Quite soon after I happened across the Panasonic 20mm f1.7 which has now replaced the 17mm full time on the front of the EP-1. I have only used the Panasonic 14-42 lens I have once on a family day out, but since then I’ve switched back to the 20mm. Why have I done that? Just because the 20mm seems to be a really great lens and I’m just loving shooting it wide open! Is the 14-42 a bad lens? Nope, I just prefer the 20mm, but I’ve always been a sucker for fast primes when shot wide open.

Anyway, what’s this got to do with blur? I’ll tell you. I’ve only ever got blurry shots from the EP-1 when I’ve ignored the settings and ended up with a shutter speed of 0.8s or some other speed. If I pay attention to the settings, just like I do on my Nikon DSLRs I never get a blurry shot. But here is the thing, I have a friend who decided to look at small cameras to complement his DSLRs and eventually got round to renting an EP-2, a 14mm and a 20mm Panasonic lens set for a trip they were taking. So was he successful? Nope, most of his shots were blurry, and I’ve struggled with this – I can only assume either he was snatching the camera or ignoring the shutter speeds. Neither of which I would expect from him. The solution, rent the Nikon V1, and this time he had no blurry pictures! So unhappy with the cost of the Nikon V1, he has decided to rent a Fuji X1 – I’ve not told him yet, but it’s a brick (UPDATE: he found out).

I have a feeling he will plump for the Nikon, and I think this is probably more out of familiarity and comfort than anything else, but that is probably the most important thing with a camera – to feel comfortable using it. Me, well I’m sticking with micro four thirds, and starting to think about the 45mm f1.8 – Primes seem to be where it’s at with the m43 cameras and it fits with my self imposed rule of not buying a lens slower than f2.8 – maybe I’ll do a post on VR vs aperture.

If you want to read about his experiences, and I recommend you do, have a look here and here.

As for the picture above, this is from the EP-1 and 20mm Panasonic, shot handheld in the Natural History Museum in London. I shot it in black and white, but used the raw to recover the colour – I’ll explain about how I shoot with the EP-1 another time.

Do you spend hours on retouch?


How long do you spend retouching an image? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? an hour? a day? How long do you think it took me to retouch the image on the left to become the image on the right?

It might surprise you to learn that the transformation from the left image to the right took less than a minute in Photoshop including the loading and saving of the image! Really I hear you ask, how did you manage that? Around three years ago I went along to a Photovision road show and watched in amazement as one of the seminar presenters took image after image and blindly (literally) retouched them in less than a minute at a time. This included in one instance a complete replacement of the sky, including dealing the the sky reflection in a lake. The presenter was called Guy Gowan and he really did open my eyes to a superb way of processing images that doesn’t take a lot of time, but produces superb results 9 times out of 10.

I won’t reveal his secret sauce, although one of the foundations is detailed in a previous post, but I do urge you to go check out his web site (www.guygowan.com) and have your eyes opened to another way of processing that is straightforward, logical and produces great results in no time at all. Obviously in some instances you will want to take the images further and add textures etc to them to bring out the artistic side, but in 90% of your photographs his techniques will nail you the image you were after.